Getting your tech firm in the news

The other day I was reading a press release on BusinessWire.com from a technology firm. They were announcing some new whiz bang product. The trouble was that for a layperson like me, the darn thing was indecipherable. This points to a problem with the writing that comes out of many high-tech firms, particularly smaller ones. Often, the leaders of these smaller firms, while skilled at developing technology products and services, are less adept at knowing how to get news coverage for their companies and products.

As a result, they make mistakes that significantly lessen the odds that their news will make it into print or onto the airwaves – or that their message will have the desired impact on customers, even if it does manage to squeeze through the newsroom filter.

Here are common errors to avoid when pursuing publicity for your technology company:

• Too much tech talk.

While you may find the technological intricacies of how your latest gizmo works fascinating, that doesn’t mean that editors or reporters will understand or appreciate a press release drowning in tech talk that is unfathomable to the ordinary reader or even to reasonably savvy technology reporters.

If it’s a consumer product, this is a particularly egregious error. The vast majority of consumers don’t really care how something works; they do care about why it will make their life easier or better. Talk more about the benefits of the product to the user and less about the technology.

And instead of talking about how great the technology of your product is, you should put the product in the context of the customer’s lifestyle and how that will be improved with your product. If it’s a business product, the message should be about the business problems your product or service solves.

• Playing the numbers game.

Too many technology companies try to build their reputation on the size or speed of their product. This presents a couple of problems. First, you’re fighting an ever-accelerating news battle with your competitors in which your news is soon trumped by someone else’s news. Here’s how it goes: You announce this week that your widget goes at lO-warp speed; next week someone else announces their widget goes at I2-warp speed and the following week yet another company has a I5-warp widget. Media members find all of this fairly boring unless you truly have achieved some enormous breakthrough in speed or size.

The second problem is that instead of being dazzled by technology numbers, consumers are just dazed by them and have long ago given up paying attention to this type of thing. Here again, you’re better off going with a news story about how the product fits into the user’s world.

• Using industry buzzwords.

Getting caught up in industry buzzword mania leads to press releases that make your company and its products sound just like every other company and product out there.

What you want is language that clearly describes what you can do for your customers, not language that makes editors and reporters yawn because they’ve seen it in a 100 other press releases that day.

Coming up with messages that make you stand out from the crowd takes careful crafting. If you have a limited marketing budget, this is one area where you might want to use some money to have a public relations professional help you develop a great Media Message Guide.

This is a document that captures how you’ll talk to the media about your company and its products in a way that is unique and compelling. Such a guide can then become the “bible” for your future press materials.

• Ignoring media basics.

I had an opportunity a few years ago to interview a roomful of editors and reporters at one of the nation’s largest trade magazine firms and I asked them what irritated them most about the press materials they receive from companies or their PR firms. While the laundry list was long, the top irritant appeared to be press releases that don’t have basic information such as the company contact, phone number, and e-mail address.

The reporters also said that frequently the person listed on a release as the contact turns out to be incapable of answering questions about the news story. This means reporters have to wait for someone who actually knows something to call them back. Not only does this annoy reporters, it can lead to missed opportunities if return calls aren’t made by the reporters’ often tight deadlines.

Don’t be guilty of this error. If you make it hard for a busy reporter to contact someone at your company who can give informed quotes, that reporter is likely to drop your material into the circular file. In effect, you’re building a wall between you and the media, which is never a good idea.

By avoiding these mistakes, your press materials have a better chance of getting the attention they deserve in the newsroom and eventually from the public. In a world where advertising is increasingly ignored, publicity is a priceless marketing tool. Make sure you use it wisely.

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